Sergeant Major Ira Edward Whitaker was born 9 November 1934 in Park Springs, Texas. He joined the Army in October 1952, trained as an Air Defense Artillery Intelligence Specialist, and was sent to Korea assigned to Battery C, 5th Automatic Weapons Battalion, 7th ID. He arrived as a Private 2nd Class and nine months later was promoted to Battery First Sergeant. Having moved to the Field Artillery, he arrived in Vietnam in June 1968, serving as First Sergeant of the 155mm SP guns of Battery C, 8th Battalion, 6th Artillery, 1st ID.
It was 0330 in the morning of 1 November 1968, with another artillery battery, B/1/5 (105mm), at Fire Support Base Rita where the twelve guns had just fired their random “Mad Minute” against NVA infiltration routes on the Cambodian border. The enemy started with mortar fire and then 800 communists attacked in three waves, penetrating the wire perimeter, in an attempt to destroy the American position. Without hesitation, Whitaker rushed to his guns and rallied his men in what was a fight to the death. It would be after dawn that FSB Rita was safe. Whitaker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his action that morning. His citation reads in part: “… Although wounded by flying shrapnel, Sergeant Whitaker fearlessly went to his battery’s section of the perimeter and placed intense fire on the communists who had broken through the base’s defenses.” In addition to the second-highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, Whitaker was awarded two Bronze Stars, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, and Air Medal, among others.
Whitaker was promoted to Sergeant Major in April 1972 and retired in 1974. He lived in Sterling, Oklahoma, where he was a farmer/rancher, active in family, veteran, and community activities. SGM Ira Whitaker died on 4 February 2017 and is buried at Ft. Sill National Cemetery.